Despite having conquered every obstacle in their path over the course of the 2019 Indoor Football League schedule, the Arizona Rattlers (14-0) came into the final weekend of the regular season with homefield advantage in the playoffs still up for grabs.
Arizona took care of business, blowing out the expansion San Diego Strike Force (1-13) Saturday night, 57-16, in front of 14,036 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Rattlers set the tone early as the defense forced a missed field goal on San Diego’s opening possession. Arizona quarterback Drew Powell threaded a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Miles to give Arizona a 7-0 lead.
After the defense produced another stop, Powell capped a nine play, 45-yard drive by calling his own number and running 16 yards to pay dirt, extending the Rattlers’ lead.
The teams traded stops early in the second quarter before the Strike Force got on the scoreboard with an Ernesto Lacayo 22-yard field goal.
However, Arizona would strike back as running back Roland Genesy Jr. would run for 24 yards on a drive that was punctuated by a Powell 1-yard touchdown plunge to extend the Rattlers’ lead to 21-3.
Head coach Kevin Guy rolled the dice and attempted an onside kick that was recovered by Arizona defensive back Devontae Merriweather.
On the next play from scrimmage, Powell hit wideout Anthony Amos in stride for a 38-yard score and the Rattlers would not look back as they capped off their first unbeaten regular season in franchise history.
“It’s special,” Guy said. “It’s never been done before. It starts the top here with Ron Shurts, outstanding owner, the best I ever worked for. I want to thank our football operations, front office. Most of all, the players deserve the credit. They’re the ones who got it done on the field. We still got two more to go. We’re proud that it’s going through the desert. We won, so it’s not like we backed in.”
After struggling to stop San Diego’s offense in two prior meetings, Guy set a goal for his defense to come away with seven stops. They finished with eight sent a message of “dominance” to their future post-season opponents.
“We want to be more physical than anybody we play,” he said. “And we want to dominate our opponents. We have to get into that mindset.”
-Due to renovations, Saturday was the last Rattlers’ game at Talking Stick Resort Arena until 2022. The downtown venue has been the Rattlers’ home since both were conceived in 1992. Arizona’s temporary home is still yet to be determined.
-A crazy play came on the final play of the first half. The Rattlers were inside the Strike Force five-yard line. Powell pitched the ball to Jarrod Harrington, who had it go off his shoulder pad and careen toward the sideline. San Diego defensive back E.J. Johnson scooped up the loose ball and started running back towards the Arizona end zone. Powell managed to catch Johnson at the Rattlers’ 10-yard line, but was flagged for a horse-collar tackle. Johnson was also penalized for flipping the ball into the stands, leading to an untimed down. The half would end on a missed Strike Force field goal.
-Exciting plays continued in the third quarter. After an Arizona touchdown, kicker Jimmy Camacho had his extra point blocked. Harrington (the team’s holder) picked up the loose ball, juked a tackler, ran to his left, cut back to the right and found the end zone for a two-point conversion.
-Arizona’s in-state rival, the Tucson Sugar Skulls, punched their ticket to the post-season, defeating the Quad City Steamwheelers in Tucson on Saturday. Tucson will face Sioux Falls in the opening round on the road next weekend.
-The only other times an IFL team went unbeaten throughout the regular season in the 10-year history of the league were in 2012 and 2015; both times by the Sioux Falls Storm. In both cases, Sioux Falls completed their perfect season with a United Bowl victory.
The Arizona Rattlers have a bye for the opening round of the IFL playoffs next weekend. They will face the lowest remaining seed at Gila River Arena in Glendale on June 29th. All games can be seen live on YouTube.